Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 1

During the month of June, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the first instalment, we explore meaningful self-reflection, what this looks like in practice and the importance of the process not the product.  

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

We know being reflective educators allows for greater self-awareness, drives continuous improvement, improved outcomes for children and families, as well as being a feature of high quality education and care. We also acknowledge a culture of learning, reflection and continuous improvement are driven by effective leaders. A culture of learning is fostered in an organisation that empowers educators, promotes openness and trust, and reflects a space where people feel heard and valued.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Reflecting

We often hear educators ask ‘What am I supposed to be reflecting on?’ There are a range of professional standards educators can draw on to analyse their practice:

Considering the prompt questions from the approved learning frameworks can be useful tools to prompt more analytical thinking (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11). A great starting point or points to revisit regularly include:

  • What questions do I have about my work?
  • What am I challenged by?
  • What am I curious about?
  • What am I confronted by?

One way of ensuring meaningful self-reflection could be to discuss issues educators have been considering during performance review processes, opening up professional conversations at team meetings, and facilitating educators to affirm and challenge each other as a ‘critical friend’. Research by the University of Melbourne identifies key factors for supporting educators to critically reflect, allowing for deep reflection of their practice:

  • guidance and structure to allow for critical reflection and change
  • effective mentoring for additional resources and perspectives
  • adequate time and space
  • professional development opportunities.

Documenting

Another common question is ‘what do I need to record or document?’ When it comes to reflective practice, the most important aspect is that it is about ‘process not product’. It is about being able to articulate why and how you made decisions and changes. Documenting key decisions may occur in a variety of ways – in the program, in a reflective journal or diary, or in minutes of team meetings.

Documenting in this way has the potential to promote in educators a sense of responsibility and accountability for their self-reflection and professional development. At this level, you may prefer to keep your reflections private.

Effective communication skills are crucial to creating a positive culture of learning. As part of the self-reflection process, you may identify further learning and professional development is needed. This could be added to your individual development plans. However, not all learning needs to be formal, such as attending a workshop. There may be opportunities to build on people’s strengths through mentoring, sharing professional journals or by accessing learning online.

Questions for further reflection:

  • What opportunities are available for educators to reflect on their practice?
  • What opportunities are created for educators to discuss and identify achievements, issues, challenges?
  • How does self-reflection inform individual development plans?

How will the approved learning frameworks guide your journey in 2017?

What is your personal and service journey with the approved learning frameworks? How do they inform your practice, programs and interactions? This month on We Hear You, we reflect on the frameworks that will guide you and your service through the coming year.

we-hear-you-blog-approved-frameworks

At this time of year, we are all thinking forward – planning for the coming months, developing programs and experiences for children and ways to collaborate with families and communities.

It is also an opportunity to take a moment to look back and reflect on your personal and service journey with the approved learning frameworks. When Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework and My Time, Our Place: Framework for School Age Care were first launched in 2009 and 2011 respectively, the intent was to guide educator practice, critical reflection, decision making and scaffold understanding, much like the way the framework for a building provides the strength and integrity of the structure.

The Framework forms the foundation for ensuring that children in all early childhood settings experience quality teaching and learning… (and) has been designed for use by early childhood educators working in partnership with families, children’s first and most influential educators. (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 5)

The Framework… forms the foundation for ensuring that children in all school age care settings engage in quality experiences for rich learning, personal development and citizenship opportunities. (Framework for School Age Care, p. 3)

The frameworks are built on a foundation of contemporary research that identifies the benefits of high quality education in the early years, with play and leisure based programs most suited to the way young children learn. One of our responsibilities under professional standards such as Early Childhood Australia’s Code of Ethics is the need for education and care professionals to be advocates for young children within the broader community.

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It may be timely to consider the ways your service is collaborating with families and communities to share the research and contemporary thinking outlined in the approved learning frameworks.

Both frameworks include many layers of rich and meaningful ideas, and while most educators and leaders are familiar with the five learning outcomes, the principles and practices that underpin these should continually shape our practice, programs, policies and interactions.

As you reflect individually and as a team, you might consider the daily influence of the frameworks’:

  • principles that promote respect, meaningful relationships and partnerships, equity, diversity and continuous learning
  • practices that support educators to implement quality programs and identify broad lifelong outcomes for children.

Taking the time to reflect on the way you are engaging with all aspects of the frameworks could also help you explore how they contribute to quality improvement.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Quality Area 1 – Educational program and practice

ACECQA – Occasional Paper 1 – Educational program and practice

Early Childhood Resource Hub – Introduction to Quality Area 1

Bush Kinder

Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQA’s National Education Leader, speaks with Tina Thompson, Koori Preschool Assistant at Berrimba Child Care Centre in Echuca, Victoria about their bush kinder program.

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Every Monday at Berrimba Child Care Centre, children aged three and above are taken into the bush for a three hour program of exploring and activities. These visits provide opportunities for children to connect to the land, live their culture and explore nature, as well as scientific and maths concepts.

Tina Thompson, Koori Preschool Assistant at the service, says the program fits well under the Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework by linking with the five learning outcomes identified.

Tina spoke to me about the smoking and Welcome to Country (in language) ceremonies that educators and children collaboratively participate in to recognise the traditional owners and to cleanse their spirits. She talked about the valuable opportunities for children as they play and explore in the bush, giving time to leave behind any troubles they may be experiencing. Tina explained how “children need to know their culture, identity and be strong and proud, knowing and valuing their rich culture”.

Science is a feature of these excursions into the bush with lots of discussion about the natural creations. For example, children were fascinated with the drying mud; Tina laughingly reported that children, at first, thought it was chocolate. The children talked and theorised about where the water goes. “It is really important to get our culture back and being out in bush kinder is a great way to connect with the ancestors and to thank Mother Nature for all the beauty around us,” said Tina.

img_0293An example of an effective learning experience occurred when children at the service learned how to make a canoe under the guidance of Uncle Rick, an esteemed Aboriginal elder and strong male role model in the community. Educators take iPads to record the rich learnings, and share these with families and others in the community. “Children are learning about sustainability. Aboriginal people for generations have only taken what they needed; it is important for children to learn to respect and care for nature and follow in the footsteps of their ancestors,” she added.

Last year, the children made a humpy (a shelter) in this beautiful natural environment. The educators were available to help and guide but the initiative, ideas and problem solving came from the children. “They are amazing,” Tina noted, explaining how they cooperatively gathered the sticks and worked out how to build it so it would stay up. During each visit, they would add to the structure, help each other, and play in and use it in a variety of ways, allowing each other space to explore, work and play.

“We might turn over a log and study the bugs, but we don’t take them away,” she said. “We talk about our totems and why we don’t eat our totem. We don’t take the bugs, insects, stones, sticks or anything we find, just study them and marvel in the beauty of nature.”

“We have a lot of strong leaders in our community and children in our service are showing skills that will make them great community leaders of the future, leaders who can advocate and fight for the needs and rights of our people. The children are teaching their parents and family members.”

The identified benefits of the bush kinder include:

  • increasing evidence that children’s inner wellbeing is benefitted by being outdoors as the natural environment enhances their health, learning and behaviour by supporting personal and social development, as well as physical and mental health
  • the sense of calm and restoration gained from spending time in the bush
  • providing children with a connection while they are young, and the hope they will build a sense of belonging and respect for the country as they grow.

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Back at the service, educators can regularly be observed putting ochre (traditional Aboriginal body paint) on the young children and babies, and singing songs in language and dancing along. Tina pays respect to her colleagues Leona Cooper (jokingly called Boss Lady) and Joyce Ward, two women strong in their culture and relentless advocates for their families and community. These women work long and hard to ensure no child falls through the cracks and to advocate for these opportunities to continue to enrich the lives of children in the Echuca community.

To finish, Tina draws my attention to a quote from Jenny Beer (from the Aboriginal language group Wergaia):

“…if we don’t learn our language, then our kids, in future generations will be like us, looking for our identity, going through that identity crisis.”

Further reading and resources

Nyernila – Listen continuously: Aboriginal creation stories of Victoria

Forever Learning – A digital story from Berrimba Child Care Centre

Emergent Curriculum… doesn’t mean no need to plan


ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

Emergent curriculum is a method of planning and curriculum decision making used readily across the sector. It describes curriculum that is responsive to children’s interests, and is meaningful, relevant and engaging for each child.

Yet, the pedagogical intentions of the approach are often misunderstood or misrepresented. A current myth is that planning isn’t required and programs emerge solely from children’s interests. This is not the intention of the emergent curriculum.

Planning for children’s learning

Emergent curriculum:

  • has a strong theoretical background
  • is inquiry and play-based
  • is responsive to children’s interests, strengths and aspirations.

This approach allows educators to respond to observations of children, build upon their strengths and scaffold their learning. It requires professional knowledge, planning for learning, and a focus on progressing each child’s learning and development towards the learning outcomes.

Educators working within the emergent curriculum, endeavour to build on children’s prior learning and current interests, and provoke new ideas and learning opportunities that challenge and extend children’s existing understandings about the world.

Planned learning programs are flexible and responsive to the spontaneous and emerging interests of children and serve to seize key ‘teachable moments’.

Informing decision making

Emergent curriculum can initially come from a range of sources including:

  • children’s interests and current knowledge
  • educators’ interests
  • families
  • the physical environment
  • the social environment
  • values held in the education and care context (school, community, cultural group).

Elizabeth Jones is an American educator who has written widely on emergent based curriculum and suggests:

“We are the stage directors; curriculum is the teacher’s responsibility, not children’s. People who hear the words emergent curriculum may wrongly assume that everything emerges simply from the child. The children’s ideas are an important source of the curriculum but only one of many possible sources that reflect the complex ecology of their lives” (Jones and Nimmo 1994, p.5).

Emergent curriculum identifies the need to include child led learning, coupled with educator-supported learning opportunities. Curriculum is viewed as a ‘child-initiated and educator framed’ process, a negotiated and co-constructed process in which educators and children have a voice.

Intentional teaching

Emergent curriculum is not an unplanned process but very much intentional in its nature. Intentional teaching and curriculum decision making are often seen as at odds with a child-centred, play based approach. This is another myth to debunk.

Intentional teaching can be responsive to both children and the learning outcomes identified in the approved learning frameworks.

The term ‘intentional teaching’ is not used to describe a formal or structured approach to teaching. It is used to describe teaching that is purposeful, thoughtful and deliberate.

When we look at the practice of intentional teaching through this lens, we can see how it compliments rather than contradicts the emergent approach to curriculum decision making. Intentional teaching offers a rich opportunity to actively promote children’s learning and knowledge building.

Approved learning frameworks

The approved learning frameworks and National Quality Standard do not prescribe how educators should plan for children’s learning, as the context and setting of the service will guide each service’s approach. Services may use a variety of approaches, such as emergent curriculum, to inform their curriculum decision making.

When planning it is important to consider the key elements of the approved learning frameworks, including the belonging, being and becoming, principles, practices and learning outcomes (Early Years Learning Framework, p.10 Framework for School Age Care p.9).

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Reflective questions

Use the following questions to prompt further professional discussion at your service.

– How does this information fit with your view of emergent curriculum?
– How do you incorporate intentional teaching while planning from children’s ideas or interests?
– How do you use children’s voices to promote the learning outcomes?
– How will you use the approved learning frameworks to strengthen your pedagogical beliefs and develop a spirit of enquiry about what you do and why?

See also Early Years Learning Framework, p.38

Further reading and resources
Understanding emergent curriculum in practice
Thinking Big Extending Emergent Curriculum Projects
Educators’ Guide: My Time Our Place
Educators’ Guide: Early Years Learning Framework

Practical strategies for reviewing, planning and improving team performance

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

William Shakespeare said ‘we know what we are but not what we may be’. One of the many roles of leaders is to assist team members to realise, and reach their full potential.

Assessment and rating data shows that element 7.2.2 of the National Quality Standard (NQS) is among the top five most challenging to meet, requiring that ‘the performance of educators, coordinators and staff members is evaluated and individual development plans are in place to support performance improvement’.

Professional development supports educators in their work to provide quality outcomes for children and families. We know when education and care services establish and maintain a culture of ongoing reflection and self-review, team members are more likely to feel challenged and motivated, and experience job satisfaction (Early Years Learning Framework p.13, Framework for School Age Care p. 12).

The Guide to the National Quality Standard refers to a cyclical process for performance review and improvement, but doesn’t set specific guidelines around timing or how the process should work in practice. Services should establish a process that works best for their staff and management structure. The process should be one that identifies staff members’ strengths and assesses and enhances staff performance.

Strategies

When implementing a performance review system, (including Professional Development Plans for each team member) a self-assessment tool developed by the Professional Support Coordinators Alliance is a useful resource. The tool can be used to establish goals and identify areas for professional development.

When education and care professionals engage in self-assessment with managers, they’re able to build on strengths, identify areas they would like to develop and celebrate the successes and contributions of all team members. Whatever system is used, it’s important the purpose is communicated clearly to staff and they feel empowered and supported in the process.

Another approach to self-assessment might be regular one-on-one catch ups to discuss current achievements and challenges. Meeting regularly ensures the team is supported on an ongoing basis and through periods of change. This is especially helpful when teams consist of casual or short term members. It can also reduce the sometimes onerous task of undertaking the process annually.

Additional strategies to self-assessment can be found in our previous article on professional development planning, as well as the Gowrie Tasmania fact sheetLeadership in Early Childhood Education and Care Services.

Quality Improvement Plan

Reviewing your current process for planning, supporting and improving team performance is important and can form part of your Quality Improvement Plan. How does the team feel about the process? Are there opportunities to share achievements? How do other services approach professional development? These are some questions you might like consider when reviewing your service’s plan.

Reflecting on and planning for inclusion

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

Practices can sometimes unintentionally limit children’s inclusion in education and care services. If vulnerable children and their families are not considered and supported, it can result in children not enrolling in a service.

Inclusion is broader than considering children with additional needs. It’s also about being inclusive of different family compositions as well as refugee, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. Inclusive practice is acknowledging, respecting and valuing diversity and recognising the opportunities to learn from each other through meaningful participation.

The Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care assist educators in providing opportunities for all children through a strength-based approach focusing on all children’s strengths, skills and capabilities and promoting each child’s learning and development.

Promoting inclusive programs and practices requires a commitment to continuous improvement and the confidence to ensure all children’s experiences are recognised. Quality Improvement Plans (QIP) and Inclusion Improvement Plans (IIP) are useful planning tools involving self-assessment and goal setting for continuous improvement. The IIP is a valuable self-assessment tool for reflecting on your service being ‘inclusion ready’. Both can inform each other and reduce duplication.

KU Children’s Services, as the National Inclusion Support Subsidy Provider (NISSP), has developed some helpful resources that focus on critical reflection, problem solving and planning. The videos and tip sheets are designed to support educators to be proactive and take ownership of both the QIP and IIP.

You might like to consider the following questions when critically reflecting on inclusive practice:

  • Is the service welcoming, accessible and responsive to the diverse range of children and families in the community?
  • What links are established and maintained to understand community needs and access resources?
  • Are educators intentional in scaffolding learning in group play?
  • How are children’s peers involved in inclusion?
  • Are physical and human resources adapted and used flexibly to support every child (regardless of abilities, needs and interests) to achieve maximum participation in all routines, transitions and learning opportunities?
  • How are educators supporting children’s social and functioning skills with a particular focus on supporting transitions?
  • How is the orientation process adapted according to the needs of each child and family?
  • Does the service know and acknowledge the traditional owners of the land?
  • Has the service considered developing a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP)?

 

Celebrating diversity at Larapinta Preschool

try thi sone

Harmony Day on 21 March was an opportunity to celebrate Australia’s diversity.

This month, we hear from Jenny Ashenden, Teacher in Charge, at Larapinta Preschool in the Northern Territory about their daily practice and programs that encourage respect, curiosity, and develop children’s knowledge, particularly in regards to its local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

At Larapinta we use a parent’s eye to understand where children have come from and a teacher’s eye to plan for where they are going to as learners. This means that age, gender, position in family, developmental levels, prior experiences, strengths, needs, cultural backgrounds and family expectations are used to inform our pedagogy, planning and practice.

We strive to create a sense of belonging for the families and children that attend Larapinta Preschool. There is an emphasis on developing and nurturing partnerships with families, local community services and children. Each year we revisit and update the Larapinta Preschool Philosophy to ensure we have a clear understanding of how we can act in a respectful manner towards all cultures.

At our preschool we believe that relationships and partnerships form the foundation for learning and inform our daily practice and long term planning. As we are based in the Northern Territory, we have a particular focus on Indigenous communities but we celebrate and embrace all cultures of our children, families and staff.

Learning at Larapinta

Community partnerships

Working alongside organisations in our community helps develop our understanding about Indigenous perspectives in our local context. Some examples of these partnerships include:

  • partnering with the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Health Service through the Preschool Readiness Program
  • provision of a playgroup organised and run by Indigenous staff members – initially established for Indigenous families but extended to welcome all local families
  • attending a Central Australian Early Childhood Educators’ Association meeting, organised by one of our preschool staff members – learning about the world view of traditional owners of the land around Alice Springs via a cultural explanation of how local landmarks and sites of significance were created.

We also make use of the expertise of staff. Last year we celebrated NAIDOC week by organising an excursion to the Alice Springs Desert Park where children and educators worked together to cook kangaroo tail and damper the traditional way, in the hot ashes of a campfire.

Partnerships with families and children

We strongly believe families are the very first teachers and we work in partnership with them. Simple strategies include greeting family members in their home language, having daily conversations, communicating via email and having a suggestion box for feedback.

A ‘My Place’ poster is on display for families to share events, interests and questions from home. Children are encouraged to share their stories in class.

Larapinta - My Place photo

Parent meetings allow us to learn about the backgrounds and cultures of families in detail. A parent shared her childhood memory of a lantern walk, a German tradition celebrating St Martin, and we organised a version that was adopted by the Larapinta Community the following year.

Just a small selection of examples of how we do this when working with and supporting our children and families are:

  • staff build relationships that can be nurtured over time as families return with younger siblings
  • educators exhibit pictorial and photographic displays so children and families can see themselves reflected in the program and learning environment
  • our end of year performance celebrates and reflects our similarities, differences and diversity and children are encouraged to wear traditional clothing.

Resources

The Harmony Day website has a number of resources and activities to assist educators to embed respect and celebration of cultural diversity into practice, policies and programs. These include lesson ideas, lesson plans and activities.

Let us know on the ACECQA Facebook page if you have any other ideas or activities to share with educators.